If You Can
One thing you can say about derivative bands is that if they’re good enough, they can pick up the slack if an idolized band drops the ball, or diverges into a different stylistic direction. As much as I love Kid A, like Insomniac, and tolerate Hail to the Thief, I tend to prefer my Radiohead to be guitar-based. PR wags continually declare every post-Kid A album the band’s “return to rock,” regardless of the actual content, ignoring the band’s undeniable slant towards the avant-garde, or at least, the radio single destitute.
There are easily hundreds of contenders vying to claim Radiohead’s “prodigal son of rock” title, and The Race, on the basis of If You Can, seem as fit a substitute as any. Both the band and their producers (Teflon Tel Aviv) heap the 1997 histrionics on this disc: shell-shocked complex melodies, dirge-like back beats, electronic dabbling and Yorke-ian dystopic operatics. That the band’s sound is a flawless interpretation of their idols’ works for both the good and the ill. The songwriting and performances are top notch, but the perfection is burdened by imitation. There are many moments where instead of simply enjoying the music at hand I was matching up themes from OK Computer. Still, If You Can is full of sublime ennui and aesthetics that should have more to do with current tastes rather than historical perspectives. I’m going to keep listening to and reveling in this. You probably should too.